Watch The Watch
Comedy is subjective, more than any other film genre. Whether or not you find something funny depends on your sense of humor. And the market usually provides something for everyone (which explains the existence of Adam Sandler movies). For a comedy to become a big hit, it must transcend the hilarity to offer something universal in its appeal. I believe that “something” is often characters about which audiences can care.
The Watch gives us four such characters. Evan (Ben Stiller) is an uptight guy who avoids problems with his wife in the bedroom by organizing clubs and committees for his suburban community. Bob (Vince Vaughn) is a carefree dude who’d rather drink a beer in his elaborate man-cave than mess with the details of the neighborhood watch group that Evan forms after the murder of a security guard at Costco. Franklin (Jonah Hill) is a high school dropout who lives at home with his mother and bears a grudge for not being accepted to join the local police department. Finally, Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) is a recent transplant who allows Evan to add a new ethnicity to his small circle of non-Caucasion friends.
Take these characters plus the situation of the four bumbling men trying to patrol the neighborhood in the absence of an effective police force, and you already have a pretty funny movie. You can imagine the arguments, misunderstandings, paranoia and power struggles that fuel the laughs. But on top of all that, The Watch adds this kicker: an impending alien invasion. (So that’s why you’re reading about it on a website called “Downright Creepy”.)
Oddly, this element is the weakest thing about the plot. There are only a handful of scenes featuring aliens, and that’s exactly why I think The Watch works as well as it does. The neighborhood watch group could be investigating any number of things (theft, kidnapping, etc.) and be just as funny. The alien invasion scenario does add a Thing-like aspect to the story: anyone in the community could be an alien. While that concept drives part of the movie, it’s secondary to the overall action.
What I really liked about The Watch is that it’s geared for adults. I’m not talking about an R rating for “strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images”, which this has. I’m talking about mature situations backed by a soundtrack of 70s, 80s and 90s songs (even the obligatory rap song is 90s N.W.A.). I’m once again showing my age, but the point is I didn’t feel like I was watching today’s typical teen comedy. Yes, a character pees in a beer can, but the difference here is that nobody accidentally drinks it.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t something for the younger audience. After the screening I attended, the favorite character of most people seemed to be Jamarcus. I’m not familiar with Richard Ayoade from The IT Crowd, but he apparently represents a more recent generation. My favorite character was Bob. Vince Vaughn had the best lines; it’s been a while since I’ve seen him in anything where he’s been this entertaining.
It’s not all fun and games, though. Evan and Bob each have serious moments. But they’re only moments. And they add depth to the characters in a way that doesn’t slow down the pace. Again, it is Vaughn who’s my favorite. Dealing with his teenage daughter due to a mostly-absent wife, we learn he really does care about something more than just having a good time and someone more than just himself.
All of this is relatively surprising to me since the director, Akiva Schaffer, is a Saturday Night Live veteran whose only previous big-screen effort was Hot Rod. And The Watch is written by the folks who gave us Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Superbad and Pineapple Express. (One of those writers is Seth Rogen, who continues his hot streak here.) Pointing this out proves my point about comedy being subjective; the creators’ previous works were not my idea of great comedies, but they have nevertheless generated a lot of revenue.
Many comedies start out strong, but can’t sustain the laughs. The Watch is consistently funny from beginning to end. Not every joke works, but the ratio of hits to misses is higher than most. All I anticipated were a few grins on a hot summer day, and The Watch exceeded my expectations. Let me tell you that the trailer is not representative of the movie’s strong points. If it turned you off, disregard it and I think you’ll have a perfectly good time watching the actual product.